Noelle Laureano was intent on a lucrative career, and as a strong math student in high school, she saw finance as the obvious answer. But seven years in, she wasn’t happy. She wanted to pursue programming, but didn’t have the skills and wasn’t about to take out more student loans to get a graduate degree. Eventually, she found her way to coding bootcamp Fullstack Academy, via the Lesbians Who Tech Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship, and is now a developer for a luxury travel startup—but her journey wasn’t as easy as all that. She sat down with Michele Cantos—director of Grace Hopper Program, the all-women’s partner school to Fullstack Academy—to share her story and offer advice to tech-curious members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
What were you doing before enrolling at Fullstack Academy?
In high school I really excelled in math and was drawn to economics, which led me to the decision to study finance my freshman year at College of Charleston. Being the only child of a single mom who had worked two plus jobs my entire life, I saw a career in finance as the antidote. After all, that would help me avoid the financial struggle I had seen my mom endure my whole life, right?
As second semester rolled around, I felt overwhelmingly alone and unchallenged. The lack of diversity was very apparent, and while I may have blended in from the outside, I didn’t feel in my heart that I fit. So I transferred to NYU and made what at the time was the biggest and hardest choice I had ever had to make--signing up for over $120,000 of debt in order to have a reputable name on my resume and thus more opportunities as I entered a competitive industry.
While at NYU, I interned at Morgan Stanley, and then I scored a job at a well-known investment management company after graduating. Within a few weeks, I was introduced to VBA, Visual Basic for Applications, the programming language of Excel that allows you to automate tasks using macros. Now I know clicking ‘Record Macro’ isn’t coding, but the logic behind it all and the ability to streamline a monotonous daily task blew my mind. I spent hours sifting through Stackoverflow posts, as I built out larger and larger macros for our portfolio analytics tools.
Over the next few years, the trajectory of my role became less aligned with what I had in mind for myself. I was way more fascinated with solving coding and logic problems than I was with trading bonds. I was ready to move on.
At that point, what compelled you to choose a coding bootcamp over teaching yourself or getting a graduate degree?
Having already made a huge investment in my education to go to NYU, and subsequently seeing a majority of my income go toward loan payments, I was by then very risk averse. I had read about all coding bootcamps in New York, but was super reluctant to make another big investment.
I decided to do my own research and reached out to an old college friend who had graduated from Fullstack Academy a few years prior. I wanted to know her true feelings about it--and she didn’t have a single bad thing to say. She had secured a job as a developer upon graduating and, just as importantly, had felt well-equipped to handle it. (Not surprising, as she’s a smart cookie.) Her advice to me was to try it for myself and see what I thought.
Within weeks of completing Bootcamp Prep, I had applied to Fullstack Academy, interviewed, gotten accepted, and put in two months notice at my job. Not a single moment since have I regretted my decision.
What made Fullstack Academy the right choice for you?
Since I had learned VBA on my own, I knew how long and difficult the independent learning road would be. I also wanted to make sure I would learn the best and most widely used stack the correct way, and I didn’t have the knowledge to do that myself. A masters was out of the question because of the cost and time. Plus, I had heard about CS majors needing to supplement their educations with bootcamps because they didn’t feel like they knew how to actually program after graduating.
After taking Fullstack’s Bootcamp Prep course, I went to a couple of other bootcamps to check out their campuses. Nothing compared. The environment and vibe at Fullstack set the bar high. The space is conducive to learning, and the people are super motivated and down to earth. I’d do it all again!
How was your experience during the program?
Unforgettable. I feel like I hit the jackpot with my cohort. I made friends from diverse backgrounds in the US and abroad that I know I’ll have forever. Everyone supported each other through the ups and downs. We learned early on that while one day may seem easy peasy, the next could feel like rocket science, and so patience with yourself and others is key.
The instructors are also out of this world. Super knowledgeable and eager to help. They offered a ton of office hours to solidify concepts. I felt like they made a concerted effort to get to know each student, which made the program feel that much more special.
What happened after you graduated and embarked on the job search?
I had a different experience than most bootcamp grads because I was selected for Fullstack’s Teaching Fellowship, an additional 17-week program in which graduates with a penchant for mentorship stay on to shepherd the next round of bootcamp students through the program. I had the honor of mentoring students in Fullstack’s Web Development Fellowship (a program in which the tech education of low-income New Yorkers is fully sponsored by the City of New York’s Tech Talent Pipeline). Having grown up in Queens myself, I felt right at home with the native New Yorkers I mentored. My job involved assisting instructors, hosting checkpoint review sessions, helping manage student projects, and providing individual support to struggling students. In my spare time, I also built my personal site. The fellowship offered a chance for me to enhance my programming skills, continue building projects, and most importantly, to teach and support my peers.
Afterwards, I was approached by two amazing startups, and after several rounds of interviews, I secured offers from both. My decision? Well, in a couple of days (and after a much needed vacation) I will be joining Porter & Sail as a software engineer--and I could not be more stoked!
What do you think queer women can do to better prepare themselves to enter the tech industry and other male-dominated spaces?
Focus on producing the absolute best work, not on changing others’ minds. At least not at first.
Be visible. Be patient. They will come around. Seven years in finance proved this to me.
Also, build strong personal and professional relationships with other queer women and allies in the field. I was given the opportunity to join a small group of women for a dinner hosted by OutWOMEN. Every woman there was well into her career and held a title no lower than VP. We talked about the #MeToo movement in depth and brainstormed ways to enhance our positions as leaders. I will never forget what one woman said: “You have to step in to your power.”
There are so many ways we can apply this to our lives. I ask you to keep this in mind whenever you are vulnerable and use it to support others when they’re vulnerable.
Are there any queer tech influencers you look up to?
Unquestionably, Edie Windsor. The strength she embodied both professionally and personally is beyond admirable. She not only gave hope to women in the tech industry, but she also opened the door for gay marriage! Being at Stonewall the night DOMA was struck down was the most surreal experience of my life. I am so grateful to Edie Windsor for paving the way, and I am proud to have been a recipient of a scholarship bearing her name.
Tell us a bit more about the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship and how you financed your education?
The Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship by Lesbians Who Tech funds 50% of a student’s coding bootcamp tuition to encourage Gender Nonconforming and LGBTQ women to kickstart their careers in technology. This scholarship is applicable at any of Lesbians Who Tech’s partner coding bootcamps, including Fullstack Academy’s full-time immersive and the Grace Hopper Program. Lesbians Who Tech is now accepting applications for 2019, so I highly encourage anyone eligible to apply now!
Fullstack Academy itself also offers a $1000 scholarship to veterans and another $1000 need-based scholarship to women, and they partner with coding bootcamp lenders Upstart and Skills Fund to provide low cost loans. And, of course, the Grace Hopper Program offers deferred tuition, meaning you don’t pay until you secure a job as a software engineer. If you don’t secure a job within one year, you don’t pay. Period.
If you’re excited about learning to code, there are lots of financing options available.
Any advice to members of the LGBTQ community, or to anyone considering applying to a coding bootcamp?
You’ll only get out of it as much as you put into it, so make sure you put in everything you’ve got.
What are you most excited about as you begin your new career in tech?
Nonstop learning. Fullstack gave me the tools to learn more efficiently and effectively, and I’m super excited to continue using those tools to expand my knowledge of other languages and frameworks.
Check out our partnerships page to join Lesbians Who Tech, Black Girls Code, and other Fullstack and Grace Hopper partner programs to support women in tech.